The students’ expressions run the full gamut of what you might expect in a high school health class on the topic of sex trafficking. Some look half asleep. Others are naively, preciously, shocked. A few look like they might take up the banner and act. But there are always one or two who know too much already. I can see it in their eyes.
They come up to me after. Always. She has a friend who models…
She has a friend who moved in with an older boyfriend…
She was raped by a guy who used all the lines I talked about…
She met a guy online and when they met face to face he was 57…
I want to hug them and take them with me, pack them into my box of fliers and posters and get them to safety. I preach prevention, but I am always too late. For at least one.
I am new to this high school and scheduled to be in three classes throughout the morning. Rather than struggling with wifi or leaving campus, I wander the halls to waste time. It’s lunchtime when I dodge groups clustered on hallway floors, pairs who have awkwardly found each other. It’s been awhile and I am desperately thankful high school is long in the past, full of gratitude that my own son has a hallway group.
Students are everywhere. I return to class.
There are too many unknown stories among them to disclose the real vulnerabilities. I can’t tell a classroom of kids that the ones I’m most concerned about have absentee fathers, parents dependent on substances, abuse in their background, or are already living with someone besides Mom and Dad. I can’t say that the girls who think having a boyfriend and being a sex object equals value worry me or that the boys who think aggression and control equal sexy are problematic.
I can’t because they are sitting there in front of me.
Mostly, I tell them what to look for in their friends. I say the obvious things. The red flags. But I don’t say the precursors. I don’t forewarn and prophesy. But I could.
Because I saw her in these walls.
When I walked through the halls at lunch. After I passed the boys beneath the stairwell and the Spanish speakers in the food court. When I climbed the stairs and passed the elevator, I saw her. Sitting there.
She has been abused since childhood. Her abuser is gone, but the wounds remain. Physical boundaries have already been crossed so she’s more susceptible to the lines. She believes the lies media has told her: her body is the ticket to really living. Her clothing and demeanor tell the story. The problem is that there is no one to give her a counter story. No one in her life suggesting an alternate reading.
I weep on her behalf and tell Jesus about her. Alone in the car, he reminds me that long before I saw her, he saw her. And sees her still.
El Roi. God sees.
Hagar gave him that name and I wonder, how did she feel when she was exploited? How did she feel when she became a servant in Abram’s household? When Sarai sent her to have sex with the master of the house? And how did Sarai feel when Abram lied to save his own life, giving her over to Pharaoh’s harem in exchange for livestock and servants?
Yeah. Sex trafficking has been going on for a long time.
But God sees. And not only do I cling to this, but I long for his counter story. Lord, show me the narrative you are writing and let me see, if briefly, how it relates to girls in halls. May I hold the alternate reading in my life and theirs.
Beth Bruno fights domestic sex trafficking in Colorado where she lives with her husband and 3 children. She facilitates the Fort Collins Anti-Sex Trafficking Community Response Team, is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking, and developing an integrated arts trafficking prevention curriculum through her non-profit, A Face to Reframe. She writes at bethbruno.org and is a proud member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild.